People with disabilities are shown as central to the teaching on the kingdom of God in Luke 14:1-24. However, to understand the message regarding those with disabilities, we must also recognize the eschatological nature in the broader section of Luke 13 and 14. Luke explores the reversals and paradoxical inversions associated with the “now and to come” nature of the kingdom of God.
Religion that Does Not Reflect the Kingdom—Luke 14:1-6
Jesus was invited to eat on the Sabbath with a prominent Pharisee and other guests. This is significant because those invited were upper-class, religious leaders, and “experts in the law,” who were carefully watching Jesus’ every move. While they were gathering to eat Jesus takes notice of, “a man suffering from dropsy” (verse 2). Dropsy is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body that causes painful swelling and affects the kidneys, liver, and heart.
The word “suffering” in Luke 14:2 NIV is not found in the original Greek. While it has been said that suffering is the common denominator among all humans, some with disabilities do not consider themselves “sufferers” any more than the rest of humankind. Degrees of suffering may differ between persons with and without disabilities, many of which can result from the culture and society in which they are born. This was surely true for this man with dropsy.
In Jesus’ day, rabbis believed that a person so afflicted had committed a grievous sin.[i] Knowing the hearts of those at the “hostile” gathering, Jesus asked the experts in the law: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Lk. 14:3). This created a dilemma for the religious leaders. What they had intended to be used against Jesus had now been turned back on them. The text tells us they “remained silent” (v. 4). During their silence, Jesus touched the man and healed him.
Blind Hosts and Dishonored Guests—Luke 14:7-14
Moments later Jesus noticed that the guests were jostling for the seats of highest honor. What irony! Jesus had just healed an uninvited man with a disability. Rather than celebrating this miraculous intervention and welcoming the man to the table to share his story, the other guests were jockeying for prominence. Jesus had just “claimed” the man with a disability for the kingdom, and they were too busy trying to claim recognition to even take notice.
Jesus then shared a parable about a wedding feast where the “Host” has the final say over who gets the seats of honor. Jesus challenged the men to show humility and recognize that honor is not determined by class, status, position, or wealth—rather, it is determined by God. The religious leaders’ were prideful and arrogant. In their minds, the man with the disability was last, and they were first, but this is not true in the kingdom of God.
When Jesus directed the story toward the banquet host in verses 12-14, he moved from ministry to those with a disability to a lifestyle of humility and placing others first. This is a lifestyle that not only includes those with disabilities, but the Gentile, poor, outcast and outsiders as well. Jesus also condemns the Pharisee’s guest list of friends, brothers, relatives and rich neighbors, pointing out their expected reciprocity. But God, the true “Host” of all banquets, has the places of honor already reserved: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed” (Lk. 14:13). The contrast in guest lists was obvious to those present.
If God’s kingdom is one in which people with a disability have a seat of honor, then the Church would do well to understand the heart of the King and his love for the overlooked. Not only will this bring an earthly blessing, but a heavenly one as well: “…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk. 14:14).
The Great Banquet—Not What They Expected—Luke 14:15-24
At the mention of the resurrection of the righteous, someone at the table quickly jumped on the topic of the “feast in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 14:15). Jesus then launched into a parable that is unmistakably a climactic point in the Gospel of Luke, where he threw the final punch.
In a sense, Jesus responded with, “You want to talk about the kingdom? Okay, let’s talk about the kingdom….” To those present, the feast in the kingdom had a clear meaning. Jews viewed the Messianic kingdom of God as that of a great, lavish banquet with God ultimately ruling all the earth . . . especially over the Gentiles. The common Jewish theology of the day related to a 700-year old conversation of “The Great Banquet” in Isaiah 25 at which certainly Gentiles and persons with disabilities would not be present. However, Jesus’ previous exposition on seats of honor and guest lists indicated that the feast of the kingdom in which they had put such confidence would in fact be “filled” (Lk. 14:23) with those about whom he had just spoken.
Jesus detailed how a man had prepared a great banquet and invited a large number of guests and then sent a reminder that the feast was ready. As the host eagerly waited for his guests to join him, his servant returned with the news that no one was coming. Every guest was too preoccupied to come, without a single exception—as if it were a prearranged conspiracy. None of their excuses were a legitimate reason to justify “disgracing” the host. Buying a field, buying oxen, and getting married are all insufficient excuses for dishonoring the host. What a powerful analogy for those who will not partake of this great eschatological feast! The host became angry at the illegitimate excuses and ordered his servant to go out quickly into the streets and alleys to invite a different guest list. As William Hendriksen explains,
The servant is now sent into that part of the city where the underprivileged people were living; the poor, crippled, blind and lame, the very people already mentioned in verse 13. The master told the servant to “bring [them] in” (v. 21)… This was probably necessary, not so much because, for example, the blind would not have been able to find the banqueting hall…, but rather because all of the groups here mentioned might well entertain serious doubts with respect to the question whether a sumptuous banquet could really be for them.[ii]
A lifetime of neglect, abuse, and discrimination had driven the poor and disabled into the outcast places of the city. Why would anyone want to celebrate them? Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle redefined for the Jews of his day what the kingdom of God was all about.
Jesus continued… when the servant reported that there was still room for more. The master sent him outside the city where the “untouchables” lived in small shacks, segregated according to disability or disease. The servant was now to literally compel them to come in (v. 23). The host desired that his house be “full” of people who were poor, crippled, blind, and lame; he would not start the banquet until they had a place at the table. Those who made excuses in the midst of their comfort and self-confidence would in no way participate in the banquet.
In verse 24 it is clear that Jesus has switched from relaying a parable to his own exhortation. “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”
What Jesus makes clear in Luke 14:1-24 is his heart for those with disabilities. There should be no doubt where Jesus stands in his love and compassion toward them. Likewise in an unbelieving world, there should be no doubt where Christians and Christ-honoring churches stand in the care and inclusion of people and families touched by disability.
Adapted from a paper in Beyond Suffering: A Christian View on Disability Ministry Study Guide by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Bundy with Pat Verbal. All rights reserved. Joni and Friends, ©2011.
Links and Resources
To find out more about disability ministry or to get involved, visit the Joni and Friends website. (http://www.joniandfriends.org)
The Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends aggressively promotes life, human dignity and the value of all individuals – despite their disabling condition–from a biblical perspective through the Beyond Suffering course. (http://www.joniandfriends.org/BYS/)
Read T. J. Addington’s thoughts on the Luke 14 Mandate. (http://leadingfromthesandbox.blogspot.com/2011/03/luke-14-mandate.html)
Steve Bundy is the Vice President of Joni and Friends overseeing the Christian Institute on Disability and International Outreach. He is an author, producer and adjunct professor. Steve frequently appears on “Joni and Friends” television episodes, national radio and has written numerous articles. He and his wife Melissa are parents of two sons; one was born with a chromosome deletion which resulted in global delay and a secondary diagnosis of autism. Steve holds a B.A. in Theology and Missions, a Certificate in Christian Apologetics and an M.A. in Organizational Leadership. He is a licensed minister and has served as a pastor and missionary.
[i] Numbers 5:11-27
[ii] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978, p. 732.